Four Coyotes forwards are set to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st, and it isn’t a reach to say that at least one of the lineup spots potentially opening up has already been claimed — by a 20-year-old prospect. Sure, the season isn’t over and no one knows what kind of deals are going to be made over the summer, but if you’re the betting the type, you could do worse than to bet on this particular player.
London Knights co-captain Christian Dvorak ended the OHL regular season second in points — third overall among all three CHL leagues — with 121 in 59 games (52 goals, 69 assists). This is his second straight season breaking the 100-point mark, with 109 points in 66 games (41 goals, 68 assists) last year. Both years are a far cry from his 14 point rookie OHL season, when an ACL tear sidelined him in December 2013.
Of course, Dvorak has played with talent during his years on the Knights. But playing with talent doesn’t automatically create playmaking skill or hockey sense.
The general tone when talking about Dvorak has changed from “the Coyotes may have gotten lucky picking Dvorak in the second round” to “the Coyotes got a steal in Christian Dvorak in the second round”, and many are beginning to consider that he may have a higher offensive ceiling than previously thought.
Recently Dvorak rated three mentions in the 20 categories included in the OHL’s annual Coaches Poll awards:
2nd, Most Dangerous in Goal Area, with 32 votes
3rd, Best on Faceoffs, with 20 votes
2nd, Best Shootout Shooter, with 22 votes
Craig Button also named him the number 3 NHL-affiliated prospect, with only William Nylander (1st) and fellow Coyotes prospect and OHL rival Dylan Strome (2nd) coming in higher.
Dvorak is the first Knight since John Tavares in 2008-09 to score 50 goals in one season, and the only Knight to do so this year. The Knights’ next highest goal totals were overager Aaron Berisha with 45 and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner with 39.
He promises to be an important part of the Knights’ playoff run this season, assisting on Max Jones’s game-opening goal in their game one win against the Owen Sound Attack Friday night. The consistency shown by Dvorak, Marner, and Tkachuk this season is the reason the Knights have been so high-scoring and are one of the OHL’s top contenders. Knights coach Dale Hunter has called his work ethic outstanding; others have called Dvorak the OHL’s best player this season.
The Coyotes are no doubt pleased with the value they got for their second round pick, and there are a multitude of places that he could slot into their lineup next season. Dvorak is versatile, able to move from center to left wing, and while the tempting move might be for the Coyotes to have him center his own line with veteran wingers, another option is also attractive.
Dvorak’s preexisting chemistry with Max Domi, a former Knight, provides the opportunity to try and recapture the chemistry they displayed in London last year. Dvorak and Domi are both high-level skaters, and if the Coyotes really want to take a chance, they’ll shift Duclair to Domi’s right and see what that line is capable of. Sure, they’re not going to be your best defensive line every night, but if you can get them at least somewhat sheltered minutes, hello speed and hello skill.
It’s just one option. But it’s an option that merits a look. And no matter what option the Coyotes choose, the future looks bright for this particular prospect.